Meeting the imaginary future: Exploring a method of qualitative research of the imaginary

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Master's Programme in New Media
Studying the imaginary is as exciting as it is challenging due to the intangibility of the phenomenon. Elusiveness of imagination is not the only core difficulty it poses for scholars, another being it's utter complexity. Thus, we can find research of a wide range of well-developed products of imagination (literature, science fiction, mathematical theories, technological solutions, etc.) easier to assess than the stem from which they originate. Humans are constantly generating primary data pool of hypothetical imaginary worlds and situations, that require preexisting understandings and expectations that the human brain needs to generate before building more complex constructs. These primary understandings and imaginary models are especially hard to explore qualitatively. And it is within these primary concepts where the main interest of the current study lies. The study explores a method of qualitative research of the imaginary as a test case of imaginary futures. The data was acquired through interviews prompting the interviewees to imagine futures and to identify objects that would be characteristic of their respective imaginary worlds. The resulting objects were subsequently recreated in physical form and shown, within the context of an exhibition, to a second round of respondents. The secondary round of questions and the exhibition of the objects were utilized as a 'magnifying lens' intended to increase engagement and therefore enhance the process of generating imaginary information more effectively. All the data was processed using a thematic analysis to reveal the main topics in the current text case. 
 The sub-question of interest for the current study is to establish whether the emerging imaginary futures tropes are recurring and similar to previous generation's ideas. And if so, how much of the current civilizational shifts would be reflected in the material. This study demonstrates the prevalence of previously known tropes with slight, but noted influence of contemporary civilizational shifts, such as digitalization. While the practical method chosen for the research positions it into the framework of speculative design practices, the theoretical approach weaves it into a broader concept of the imaginary. The scope of the research engulfs philosophy, neurobiology, futures studies, world-building theory and speculative design.
 The study contributes to the methodological approaches of qualitative research of the imaginary by exploring a perspective method to provoke a more effective thought-generation for data retrieval. The data retrieved during the course of this work yielded over 60 themes.
Niinimäki, Matti
Thesis advisor
Eriksson, Vikki
futures studies, speculative design, world-building, imagination, qualitative research, thematic analysis, boundary objects
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Media files notes: Video documentation of the thesis exhibition Description: A video overview Media rights: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0